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2014 Preview: Colorado Rockies

Mar 3, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

Troy Tulowitzki Getty Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Can the Rockies get back over the .500 mark?

Rookie manager Walt Weiss led the Rockies to a 10-win improvement (64 wins to 74 wins) last year, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the club from a second straight last-place finish in the National League West. After abandoning their four-man rotation experiment, the starting pitching was better with Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa healthy and Tyler Chatwood surprising, but the pitching on the whole was still far from good. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t do enough to make up for it. In fact, the Rockies scored their fewest runs in franchise history last year, not including the strike-shortened season in 1994.

With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies have two of the best players in the game, but we saw once again last season that it’s difficult to rely on either of them to stay healthy. Colorado was actually five games over .500 as late as June 11, but injuries to Tulowitzki and Gonzalez soon followed and the club predictably struggled as the year moved along. Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting crown last season and Wilin Rosario continued to show why he’s one of the best power-hitting catchers in the game, but ideally they’ll be complementary pieces to Tulowitzki and Gonzalez this year, not trying to carry the load for the offense.

The Rockies fell short in their efforts to land Jose Abreu, Brian McCann, or Carlos Ruiz over the winter, but they still did quite a bit of tinkering. While the Dexter Fowler trade with Houston was a head-scratcher, they used the cost savings to sign Justin Morneau to help replace the retired Todd Helton at first base. They invested a lot of money into the back end of their bullpen with the additions of LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan. They also bought low in trades for the injury-plagued Brett Anderson and the free-swinging Drew Stubbs and even brought Franklin Morales back into the fold.

The Rockies don’t look like a contender at first blush, but their activity over the winter suggests that the front office thinks they can be. For a chance at .500 or better, my guess is they’d need 140-plus games out of both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and for Anderson to stay healthy enough to rediscover some of his early promise. It’s a tough sell. They could take a step back from 2013 if Chacin’s shoulder issue continues.

What else is going on?  

  • After saying for most of the offseason that Carlos Gonzalez would replace the departed Fowler as the starting center fielder, the Rockies recently changed course by deciding that he’ll remain in left field. It’s the right move, as he has a better chance to hold up there, especially coming off a nagging finger injury. Drew Stubbs and Charlie Blackmon now figure to get most of the playing time in center field while Corey Dickerson could find himself in Triple-A to begin the year.
  • Nolan Arenado didn’t make his major league debut until April 28 last year, but he ended up becoming the first rookie to win the Gold Glove Award at third base since 1957. While we know he can pick it at the hot corner, his bat remains a work in progress, as he hit .267/.301/.405 with 10 home runs and an 82 OPS+ in 113 games last season. He doesn’t turn 23 until April and Coors Field is a pretty good environment to facilitate a power progression, so the Rockies are hoping for him to take the next step in 2014.
  • The Rockies raised some eyebrows over the winter when they signed LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the idea of using the veteran reliever as their closer in 2014. While this could be a way to keep Rex Brothers‘ salary down in arbitration, the odds are against the 41-year-old Hawkins keeping the job for long. Look for the Rockies to give in to Brothers eventually or potentially test Chad Bettis at some point.
  • What will the Rockies get out of second base? Josh Rutledge was supposed to be the guy last year, but he struggled on both sides of the ball and even found himself demoted to Triple-A for a stretch. DJ LeMahieu benefited from Rutledge’s struggles and ended up logging 434 plate appearances. While he was a solid defender and showed a knack for making contact, he could only muster a .673 OPS (75 OPS+). LeMahieu should be the favorite to begin the season as the starting second baseman, but that could change quickly depending on how Rutledge swings the bat.
  • The Rockies have some questions in the back end of their rotation, but there’s help on the way with right-handers Eddie Butler and Jon Gray, who are arguably the best tandem of pitching prospects in the game right now. Butler is likely to arrive sooner, possibly by July if all goes well. It’s tough to say what sort of impact pitching in Coors Field will have on them, but there’s some hope in the pipeline. And that’s something.

Prediction: The Rockies could be an interesting team if things break right, but you could say the same thing for a lot of teams. As it stands, there are too many questions here. Fifth place, NL West.

  1. Old Gator - Mar 3, 2014 at 7:39 PM

    It’s been over two hours since this team preview was posted and there hasn’t been a single comment yet. I don’t quite understand why a team averaging such impressive annual attendance seems to have few or no partisans on this board. Come on now. Aren’t there any Rocky Mountain Oysters fans out there who want to lay out their two cents’ worth?

    • happytwinsfan - Mar 3, 2014 at 8:15 PM

      i hope cuddyer and morneau do well.

    • card0109 - Mar 3, 2014 at 8:28 PM

      As a Twins fan first, I now live in Denver and my spouse roots for the Rockies, so I have some input. I was surprised that D.J. failed to mention the potential battle between catchers. While Wilin Rosario is the starting catcher, in the games that I’ve gone to, he is not much better than the brick wall behind home plate. And the wall hits more than he does as well. Jordan Pacheco, while not a full time catcher, is not a vast improvement. But I would rather see someone who knows how to use his bat and can potentially throw a runner out at second than just a warm bodied veteran.

      • happytwinsfan - Mar 3, 2014 at 8:57 PM

        the sun never sets on twinsdom

      • ezthinking - Mar 3, 2014 at 9:44 PM

        With that analysis card0109, I suspect you just got fired as the Twins head scout.

      • kyzslew77 - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:03 AM

        Rosario is indeed terrible with the glove, but his arm is average to above average and his bat is top 10 among all catchers in the league. If he can cut the passed balls again this year (from 21 in 2012 to 9 in 2013) and improve either his patience at the plate without sacrificing power, he’ll be a legitimate All-Star candidate. Pacheco, on the other hand, is an AAAA player who can’t even hit at Coors. The Rockies need another catcher, but not someone to provide competition with Rosario. They need a backup who isn’t Pacheco.

    • kyzslew77 - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:09 AM

      OK, here’s your Rockies fan partisanship. I’m just about at the end of my rope with the double standard applied to Rockies hitters and pitchers with regard to the Coors Field effect. As soon as any Rockies hitter comes up in discussion in a national forum like HBT, whether it’s the HOF worthiness of someone like Walker or Helton, or whether it’s a trade rumor about a current Rockie like CarGo, people trip over themselves rushing to point out that LOL COORZ means all numbers put up by all of those guys need asterisks by them, and no Rockies hitter can ever be any good if they’re not playing half their games at altitude (conveniently ignoring guys like Holliday who have had plenty of success doing just that).

      That’s all well and good, but if people are going to do that, they can at least give credit to Rockies pitchers who have good seasons in spite of Coors, right? No, apparently they can’t. Last year Jholuys Chacin and Jorge DLR both had ERA+s (park adjusted) better than any starter in the NL not named Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey or Greinke. Chachin put up the 10th highest WAR total for any pitcher in baseball. Do any casual fans acknowledge these kinds of things? Of course not. That’s just one thing that keeps me from commenting here more often.

      The lesson, as always, is that people are dumb.

      Oh, and my prediction for this year: 81-81. Perfectly mediocre, baby.

      And Tulo isn’t going anywhere, at least not for a few years.

  2. strangebrew22 - Mar 3, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    I guess Rockies fans have accepted Tulowitzki to the Yankees as a forgone conclusion. Sad.

    • gloccamorra - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:56 PM

      I think what the Rockies fans have accepted is that the Montforts have been, are, and will be in charge, and that they don’t know what they’re doing.

    • kyzslew77 - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:09 AM

      Not at all.

  3. Old Gator - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Glad to have some Rocky Mountain Oysters noise. They came into the league at the same time as the Feesh so I tend to think of them as twins who were born joined at the head, separated after a twenty five minute operation that was mostly extended by laughter at too many joined-at-the-head jokes, and then shipped off to foster stadiums at nearly opposite ends of the country. As a pilot, I also tend to view their annual ritual of having not quite enough to make the first division as akin to trying to take off from a short high altitude runway with your flaps retracted. By the same token, I think of the Feesh’s annual ritual of having let good players walk in salary dumps as being akin to going swimming in a riptide while wearing a weight belt with your legs tied together at the ankles.

    But kyzslew, yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with your take on that analytic double standard. Moreover, any team that doesn’t play in a climate-controlled domed stadium has to make adjustments to changing weather conditions. A game at sea level on a hot dry day is going to offer its own set of favorable conditions for hitters and challenges to pitchers. It’s not like baseball everywhere but Denver is played in steady-state conditions, either.

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